July 11--The Buffalo school district has agreed to review, revise and/or expand the admissions process and selection criteria at its criteria-based schools in order to resolve complaints filed with the federal government about under-representation of minority students in those schools.
That means more minority students are likely to be admitted to City Honors, Olmsted 64 and Olmsted 156, Leonardo DaVinci High School, Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, Emerson School of Hospitality and the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. All these schools, except Performing Arts, are deemed schools in good standing by the state Education Department.
The action is a result of a complaint three district parents filed last year with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights in New York, alleging the district's admissions policy discriminated against minorities -- especially African-Americans and Hispanics -- by disproportionately excluding them from enrollment in the district's criteria-based schools.
The Office of Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, launched an investigation in March into the school district's admissions policies and said it will suspend further investigation as long as the district complies with the conditions.
In his letter to parents, OCR Director Timothy C.J. Blanchard noted that his department reviewed information submitted by both parties and that district officials wanted to resolve the case without further investigation. The district voluntarily agreed to implement the conditions of the agreement, which will have a dramatic, sweeping effect on how students are enrolled in those schools in the future.
The agreement stipulates that the district retain a consultant by September to study and make recommendations on how to improve access for all students at the criteria-based schools, which also included Middle Early College.
By March, school district officials will have to determine which corrective measures they will take, and they will have to report directly to the Office of Civil Rights for review and approval throughout the entire process. If the district doesn't comply with all of the conditions, the civil rights office will resume its investigation.
Will Keresztes, chief of student support services for the district, cautioned not to misrepresent the findings of the Office of Civil Rights. Keresztes served as interim superintendent when he agreed to the resolution June 26.
"The district is not changing admissions standards to its criteria-based schools," Keresztes said. "It is engaging an evaluator to determine if application processes pose barriers to students who apply. That's a very important difference.
"In the future, we have the option to consider selection-criteria changes, as we do frequently," Keresztes wrote in a statement.
A leader of one parent group described the agreement as one of the biggest decisions involving Buffalo Public Schools since the Civil Rights era.
"This is huge. This is the biggest thing since desegregation," said Samuel Radford, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.
Complaints were filed by parents Patricia Elliott-Patton, Carolette Meadows and Desire Radford -- Radford's sister -- but they were rolled into one. The women said they sought to stand up and try to effect a change.
"If you don't do it, who will?" Meadows said.
"I'm so excited," Elliott-Patton said. "For sure, this is a step in the right direction. A lot of children's lives will improve. There will be opportunities for other children to have a good, sound education."
All three parents are members of the District Parent Coordinating Council, Radford said, adding that the organization will hold a news conference Monday afternoon -- time to be determined -- at 1423 Fillmore Ave. with all three parents present.
Submitted along with the complaint was a copy of a Buffalo News story from November about school officials' plans to overhaul admissions requirements as a way to eliminate a two-tiered system of education that critics say shuts most students out of better schools, while those whose parents know how to navigate the system get in.
The Corrective Action Plan, as it was called, was approved by School Board members and the state Department of Education last fall, but it has since collapsed because officials have had problems with implementation and getting various components of it approved.
The News article served as a blueprint for investigators, Radford said.
"No question," Radford said. "The reason why we filed the complaint was because of the story was so clear a violation was going on. We basically used your story to outline our complaints."
In the agreement, the district has until Sept. 2 to retain the consultant, who will examine and make recommendations to address the root causes of disparities in enrollment and admissions rates of minority students in those schools.
The consultant may be a district employee or an independent contractor. Either way, the person picked for the job will have to be approved by the Office of Civil Rights.
The office laid out a step-by-step process the district must strictly follow immediately and other provisions that go until 2017.
By Dec. 31, a completed review and assessment report is due for the eight schools for the school years 2012-13 to 2014-15. The report will cover application and admission rates and enrollment data; the correlation between the application rates and admission rates; and the connection between elementary and middle school performance and subsequent enrollment in criteria-based high schools in good standing.
It also will identify any barriers that may be keeping minority students out of those schools as well as ways to expand the criteria-based schools program.
Also, the district will be required to meet with parents and students, as well as administrators, faculty and staff, to share information and obtain recommendations. And they will have to submit documentation to prove it.
The consultant has until Jan. 30 to provide recommendations to the district and the Office of Civil Rights on how the district will incorporate them into an action plan.
By Feb. 27, school officials must determine which of the recommendations it will take and submit a plan by March to the Office of Civil Rights on how the recommendations will be implemented. If officials reject or modify any of the consultant's recommendations, they will have to explain why in detail.
And for the next three years beginning in June of next year, the district will have to provide to the Office of Civil Rights the number of applicants -- by race -- to each of the criteria-based schools, as well as the number of students offered admission.
To read a full copy of the resolution agreement and the letter that went to the parents who filed the complaint, go to School Zone blog at BuffaloNews.com/schoolzone.
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